Hang out the flags
After the defeat at home to Manchester United, and just one win since January, debate was intensifying and differences of opinion were increasing. The old chestnut came up; was is it better to be in the Prem and just hang on, or be in the Championship battling for promotion.
Were Burnley poor, or were they just outclassed by a far better side? Was Dyche now stuck in a rut unable or unwilling to vary things, or was he just determined and convinced that 4 4 2 was still the best way forward with the players he had. He stuck to it at Crystal Palace and we all know what happened next.
Was Joey Barton now a fading force or was he still essential to the heart of the team? Essential or not, there was some shattering news that put paid to any more appearances and made the question academic.
Was Defour being ignored and why was he not being played? Was it Dyche stubbornness or were there good reasons that fans knew nothing about? Were Burnley slowly sliding into the bottom three or would it all come good in the end; were the most difficult games now behind them and would the remaining four provide the needed points? Was the growing worry unnecessary; was a little more perspective required? By the end of the 90 minutes at Selhurst Park we all knew the answer to that one.
The glass half empty group said Burnley were only 5 points from eighteenth place. The glass half full brigade said only four points away from tenth. Everything was perception. And then the win at Palace blew the worst worries away although Dyche insisted Burnley weren’t safe just yet.
And would Man United continue their alleged pursuit of Michael Keane after seeing him up close. The Manchester Evening News was far from convinced he was what they needed at Old Trafford and rated him as no more than a squad player with his value inflated by his England appearances. Next game and he was colossal at Palace. Much was made of the T shirts that Man U wore in the warm up paying tribute to Rojo and Ibrahimovic now out injured for a long spell. ‘Will there be a minutes silence as well,’ someone asked.
The stark reality was just 7 points won out of 33 since the end of January but Dyche continued to put things into a balanced perspective. The run of recent games had been tough with six of the last nine games away from home. In the last seven they had played four of the top six. With this as a reminder it was easy to understand how the once 10-point gap at the end of January had been whittled down to five. Even within this tough run of games there had been times when they were unrewarded having played well at Liverpool and Everton. And then the goals from Barnes and Gray made all of that more or less hypothetical. Allardyce’s gum-chewing face was a picture.
Of course there will be nerves, Dyche added, before the Palace game, it was impossible to think there wouldn’t be. And, as ever you needed that scratch of luck or a decision to go your way. He must have been reading the tea leaves. Ten wins at Turf Moor was the reason to think that one more was possible to take them over the line. Nobody gave us a chance at the beginning of the season, he elaborated, but here they were 5 points clear with four games to go. Meanwhile we looked at the fixtures. Swansea were away next to Manchester United. If they lost there, a defeat for Burnley at Crystal Palace would not be a disaster. But there was no defeat, there was a glorious, glorious win and how we all beamed with delight. The world suddenly seemed a better place.
A year ago with frayed nerves, we were working out all the permutations in the run in to the end of the Championship season with promotion the reward. Now, before kick-off in Croydon, we were in the same state but it was with Premier survival in mind, nerves not quite frayed but almost. The signs were that this might go right to the wire and the last game of the season at home to West Ham might be the key game. In fact, wonderful though it might be to settle things before then, to do it in front of home fans on the very last day, or maybe West Brom, would see scenes as vibrant and joyous as those 12 months ago. Crystal Palace 0 Burnley 2 made things less worrisome but a home win after Swansea got another point would be the icing on the cake.
And then: just when you thought all we had to worry about was would it be 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 at Selhurst Park and could you pay on the day; or would the potatoes be OK that were just coming through or would they be frost damaged by the current cold snap? And just after Mrs T shattered me with the news she wanted the decking painting; there was even worse.
We had just about assumed that Joey Barton would receive his ‘sentence’ a few weeks further down the line and play out the season. The FA works quite slowly more often than not, so this hit like a hammer, when three days before the Crystal Palace game, the FA announced his punishment, an 18-month ban and a £30 thousand fine. Not only were we stunned by the surprise announcement, but also by the severity of the decision. It as good as ended his career. Sam Allardyce’s career, meanwhile, was now thriving after his indiscretions as the England manager when he had been discovered giving advice on how to get round FA rules. PFA boss Gordon Taylor, it was revealed, some years ago, allegedly had gambling problems, including bets on Premier League matches and it caused a huge furore. Taylor had preached a zero tolerance policy to footballers gambling. He is still the PFA boss.
Reactions varied from the vitriolic ‘football is well rid of him’ by Neil Cameron in the Scottish Herald, to ‘what on earth were Betfair doing knowingly taking bets from a footballer for 10 years,’ from former pro Leon Osman. The overall reaction was one of yes he had to be punished, but it was a draconian sentence. The shortest we could give him, the FA later explained. The suggestion that it was a betting company that tipped off the FA made the whole thing even murkier.
He was at pains to point out in his statement that none of the bets had any links to match fixing. And then he legitimately raised the issue of how so much of football is financed by betting firms, clubs are sponsored by betting firms and the FA accepts this.
If the FA is truly serious about tackling the culture of gambling in football, it needs to look at its own dependence on gambling companies, their role in football and in sports broadcasting, rather than just blaming the players who place a bet…anyone who watches or follows football on TV or in the stadia is bombarded by marketing, advertising and sponsorship by betting companies and where much of the coverage now, on SKY for example, is intertwined with the broadcaster’s own gambling interests. That all means this is not an easy environment in which to stop gambling, or even to encourage people within the sport that betting is wrong. It is like asking a recovering alcoholic to spend all his time in a pub or a brewery. If the FA is serious about tackling gambling, I would urge it to reconsider its own dependence on the gambling industry. I say that knowing that every time I pull on my team’s short, I am advertising a betting company.
Guilty as charged m’lud, or not, fans’ tributes to his time at Burnley poured in, both in the title season and then when he returned from Glasgow Rangers and scored the unforgettable goal against Southampton. Many of his years in the game have been troubled ones; in the past he has courted controversy and served time in jail. But at Burnley he has never been anything other than exemplary.
Bearing in mind the role that gambling and betting does indeed play in the game of football; (Lord preserve us from Ray Winstone’s floating head on that interminable SKY betting advert, and the news on Talksport immediately followed by adverts for Paddy Power), there is the feeling that this has been something of a witch-hunt, and hypocritical at that. Few if any people disagreed that rules are rules, but it was the sentence that was the eye-opener. There was a fairly accurate summary on one of the websites:
So a bloke who wears a shirt in the Premier League that advertises a betting company, and won a medal in a league that was sponsored by another betting company, (and while the pop-ups invade my computer advertising Sky Bet), receives a lengthy ban for betting.
On the Barton ban Dyche was candid. ‘18 months seems a long time to me in light of other things I’ve seen in the sport, (back to Allardyce and Taylor maybe?). We all feel it’s a bit harsh.’
What would Dyche do, we wondered? Who would he bring in to replace him, Defour, Arfield or Westwood? Would he now go 4-5-1 or stay with the favoured 4-4-2? It seemed reasonable to think that he would have had his fall-back plan ready for this. We’d watched Palace lose at home to Spurs in midweek and after a bright opening with Townsend and Zaha rampant; Palace had then faded and played more pinball than football. Might this be the first Burnley away win after all?
And the answer was YES.
Forget Putin, Trump, Tusk, Junker, North Korea, May and Corbyn, Brexit and all the rest, even Anthony Joshua. Hang up the flags, drape the bunting, ring dem bells, sound the trumpets; beat the drums, shout it down the street and from the rooftops, and tell yer neighbours… BURNLEY WON AWAY FROM HOME… with the tried and tested 4-4-2, with the tried and tested Boyd and Arfield, with Westwood not Barton and with the perfect away performance.
With Master Joe, up we went to the Fleece in Farsley to watch the game. Farsley Celtic had just won the Play-Off Final that took them up a division from the Evo Stick Division One North. Maybe that was an omen I wondered. Stick at something and the rewards will come. I’d planned to go to the game only 10 minutes from home but I was under orders, from she who must be obeyed, to finish painting the garden chairs. Cuprinol profits are definitely up.
Arfield was back in the side, Boyd was in, and Westwood replaced Barton. Brady and Defour and Gray were on the bench. In truth many folks groaned at this when the team was announced. At Arsenal they used to have banners that read ‘Arsene Knows.’ But perhaps we should have them at Burnley, ‘Sean Knows.’ Tarkowski and Keane were immense. Barnes and Vokes were just too much for Palace. Westwood was a giant. Arfield and Boyd worked like Trojans. And Gray: when he came on, give him the ball the way he likes it, and he will score.
The pub was geared up for the Anthony Joshua fight later on, with every table reserved but we squeezed in with the game just starting. Folks kept looking at us; we must have oohed and ahed, grimaced and groaned, cheered and clapped non-stop. When Barnes scored so early, I nearly choked on a piece of chicken from the Caesar Salad. For a glorious moment we thought he’d scored a second but the linesman decided otherwise.
The first half was a masterclass in containment, then onto the front foot and striking back. How well they played. The second half was a masterclass in defending with goalkeeper Heaton producing fine saves when needed. And then the second goal was a masterclass in the quick breakaway after ceaseless pressure, but pressure that came to naught against the Burnley brick wall. Boyd’s pass was masterful in its perception and precision. Gray’s run was flawless and his goal was another masterclass in opportunism, accuracy and coolness. Joe’s last sausage had just gone down, the last bit of salad finished, heads turned as we roared and cheered and banged the table. How fantastic was this? How deserved, although Allardyce might grimace and complain and rue referee’s decisions that cost him the game, he said; and Zaha might rub his bruised backside after falling so often under the slightest challenge. In this game Zaha was more giraffe than footballer, eyeballing the referee so often it’s a wonder they didn’t fall out.
How was this the same Palace team that destroyed Arsenal and won at Chelsea and Anfield? How was this the same Burnley side that capitulated so tamely to Manchester United? Football is so unpredictable and here was the proof. And here was why we love Burnley so much. The little guys went to the mighty capital, gave them a kick up the arse and came back with the spoils. Yep there was a scratch of luck as Dyche calls it; Zaha pulled up for offside when clean through was in fact onside, Heaton would certainly have been red-carded for bringing him down but got away with it. But we might argue it’s time Burnley had that little bit of good fortune.
In 2009 I remember being in Hornsea watching the two goals at Reading in the play-offs and the sense of utter, wild, mad, euphoric relief and jubilation. At Hornsea I dived off the settee and rolled about all over the floor. In the pub I managed not to. Hyperbole it may be, but when Gray’s went in against Palace, the feeling was much the same.Follow UpTheClarets:
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